Singers' and Teachers' Nodes

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Many have asked me about a more detailed explanation of modules or otherwise known as Singers and Teachers Nodes:

Here you go


by Rosalie Loeding

Gregarious Behavior Can Be Dangerous

You must never delude yourself. The cause of nodules, polyps, and chronic laryngitis, hoarseness and other unpleasant vocal disorders is usually overuse and abuse of the voice. . When you talk or sing, the vocal folds vibrate. The only way to heal the folds is to avoid hitting them together temporarily. This article is aimed at YOU.

Be very vigilant! If the voice is already under stress -- hoarse, tired, fatigued, gravelly -- a physical condition such as asthma, sore throat and allergies, may escalate the vocal problems, but it does not cause them. You may unconsciously compensate by replacing correct vocal technique with incorrect technique. For example, nodules do not form if the voice is used sensibly and correctly.

Most vocal technique, speaking or singing, is comprised of learned responses; for better or worse. When vocal technique becomes automatic, one is seldom aware of how the voice is being used. Always be alert to the warning signals that your instrument is not working normally. Don't wait until disaster strikes. Cut back drastically on vocal use the minute you recognize symptoms of vocal fatigue and stress. Social talking should be eliminated until the voice is better. Listed below are some clues to help you recognize problems:

I. Causes and/or exacerbators of vocal problems in singers and professional voice users.
A. Lack of discipline and self-motivation.
B. Lack of self-restraint: Overuse and abuse.
1. Speaking too long, too loud, too low, over too loud noises -- particularly when voice is tired or "ill." Voice rest is not an excuse for not practicing. It is the reason to eliminate or severely restrict social talking.
2. Inability to say "no" socially and professionally when you and your voice are tired, sick, and overworked.
C. Incorrect vocal technique. To develop good technique and maintain a healthy voice:
1. Warm-up the voice every day before speaking and singing.
2. Practice efficiently and carefully.
3. Correct technical problems when pointed out and work diligently to correct them as soon as possible.
4. Correct specific vocal habits that hamper good technique:
a. Mouth/jaw not open enough.
b. Vowels -- example: E too stretched, restricting mouth opening.
c. Tongue retracted, humped etc., causing muscular tension, particularly the jaw.
II. Singer's vocal technique problems that result from vocal dysfunction (laryngitis, hoarseness, nodules, etc.)..
A. Inability to bridge easily between registers.
B. A voice quality that is breathy, hoarse, raspy, and gravelly.
C. The inability to sing loudly and/or softly, particularly in the bridge from middle to low register (a "break").
D. The double whammy: It takes longer to warm up a damaged voice. But, in order to minimize further damage, it is imperative that one thoroughly warms up the voice. This is unfortunate because a "sick" voice tires quickly.
III. Singers and professional voice users with vocal dysfunction may have some of the following problems:
A. Raised shoulders, one shoulder higher than the other.
B. Congenital conditions such as a short leg may result in one shoulder being held higher than the other. The longer leg is habitually in front of the other with the weight on one foot. Do not try to artificially level the shoulders. It will only cause more tension. A lift or small molded appliance in the shoe is needed. This is also one cause or exacerbator of Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD).
C. TMJD - mouth/jaw does not open symmetrically.
D. Incorrect head position (ex. chin up).
E. Tension of neck muscles, shoulders, arms, hands.
F. Symptoms that should alert one to the possibility of asthma, bronchitis and allergies:
1. A feeling of tightness in the chest.
2. Wheezing and/or shortness of breath.
3. Problems with breath -- inability to complete a relatively short musical phrase.
4. Frequent episodes of vocal and physical fatigue. The appearance of stress of being tired without sufficient cause.
5. A frequent dry or wet cough with the feeling of mucus on the vocal folds.
6. Excessive tension of the extrinsic neck muscles, jaw, and face.
7. Persistent throat clearing,
8. Tickle in the throat.
9. The appearance of restlessness or nervousness.
10. A wrinkled forehead.
11. Loss of voice.
IV. Causes and manifestations of vocal dysfunction in the speaking voice. Incorrect habitual/optimal pitch and glottal initiation of sound. So that you can use this information, let's discuss these two areas.
One of the most damaging vocal behavior I know is speaking at the incorrect optimal pitch, usually too low. (Vocal Fry) More women than men have this problem. A soprano with vocal problems may have a speaking pitch around C or D below middle C! When I vocalize them in this area, they claim it is too low, but that is where they are speaking. This causes register interference (discrepancy) - usually affecting bridging between registers and seriously affecting the ability to sing in the upper voice. There can be little hope of successfully rehabilitating the singing voice until the optimal pitch is raised appropriately.

Learn your correct optimal pitch and use it all the time. If your voice is gravelly and hoarse, it is probably too low. When the optimal pitch is used, the quality of the voice is clear and does not tire as quickly. Not very scientific, but a way to find your approximate optimal pitch is to hum, sliding upward until the voice is clear. This will be close to the optimal pitch.. Become aware of that approximate pitch and continue to speak there, never allowing the voice to gradually "anchor" on the very low, damaging pitches. When speaking, the voice pitch encompasses a range of a fifth or more, but the optimal pitch is the most frequently used pitch. Begin by using mainly head voice for speaking -- it may sound childlike to you. The phrasing must be legato, sustained and well supported, using no excessive force or pressure. Until the voice is healthy, do not use your projected, "performing voice."

Glottal initiation of words and phrases is another surefire way to finish off your voice. It occurs when the delivery is staccato, breaks after almost every word and is disjointed, not legato. The louder the voice, the harder the folds collide; the higher the pitch, the more frequently the folds slam together. In glottal initiation of words or phrases (glottal attack) the glottis closes firmly before breath pressure is applied. To make a sound, the folds must explode open against muscular resistance, causing great muscular tension and vocal fatigue. Glottal Initiation of words or phrases is quite common among speakers whose speaking pitch is too low and those with voice disorders. The damage to the folds causes trauma, irritation and swelling. Hard, fast glottal attacks for 20 minutes may cause hemorrhaging of the vocal folds and even 24 hours of complete voice silence may not repair the damage. Unfortunately, most habitual voice abusers cannot be persuaded to rest the voice until they can hardly croak.

To correct this problem, begin the breath before the initiation of sound. Try saying /singing "hum" as you begin the phrase. Speakers and singers often use glottal initiation in an attempt to speak more distinctly and project the voice. Instead, the disjointed delivery often interferes with the audience's understanding of the thoughts being expressed. Convey the meaning and emotion of a song or speech by placing emphasis only on the important words, not every word; use the appropriate emotion in the voice; appropriate body action; and use variety of vocal pitch.

No matter the physical conditions that cause or exacerbate vocal problems, be it viruses, injuries or chronic conditions, vocal technique must be addressed. I have never worked with a client with vocal problems who had perfect technique.

Gradual retraining is necessary to recover from laryngitis and other voice disorders. The same process can be used with singers after vocal surgery. For best results work under the guidance of a voice teacher or a speech pathologist who understand the singing voice. Here are some suggestions:

1. Do some easy physical warm-ups before vocalizing!!!
Begin with five minutes of humming when the doctor says it is OK.
a. Random humming, lips trills and sliding exercises in mid range.
b. Gradually add minutes to each session and more sessions per day.
c. Begin vocalizing only in the middle voice and gradually and cautiously extend the range up and down. Lip trills are excellent.
d. Add other exercises one by one as the voice improves.
3. Always "warm-down" after singing or performing, particularly after strenuous singing. Using easy humming exercises, etc.,
4. Never whisper! The arythenoids are slightly abducted and "toed in" when whispering, resulting in a small triangular chink. When breath is released, turbulence occurs in the chink exacerbating the problem. Use a quiet, well-supported head voice.
During the first week or two after vocal surgery all social talking should be avoided. When the voice is feeling and sounding healthy, gradually begin short social conversations in a quiet room - no long monologues, no tense, emotional exchanges. Tears may help clear the emotional "air," but it wrecks havoc with the voice (results in muscular tension).

Professionally, one must walk a tightrope, making modifications in lifestyle and in professional activities when necessary to save the voice. To summarize:

During the recovery period or when your voice is tired, take advantage of every weekend and holiday to be absolutely quiet. Save your voice for your job. Try to schedule your time so that there will be vocal breaks. If one day or portion of the day requires heavy vocal use, plan vocal breaks that involve moderate, low, or no vocal expenditure. You must consciously plan vocal use, otherwise you will unconsciously use it in the same manner that got you in trouble. You can use your voice less and be more effective. Be creative.

How rapid the voice improves depends on you and on a number of circumstances:
1) The severity of the vocal damage. For example, a fragile, hoarse voice that fatigues quickly; fibrous nodules or contact ulcers will recover more slowly.
2) Vocal regression following a vocal surgery will also take longer. In any case, one should not expect to resume normal vocal activities for approximately six weeks. How rapid the vocal recovery depends on compliance with the recommendations of your otolaryngologist and your vocal rehabilitation specialist and the determination of the singer to accomplish it in the shortest period of time and on how vocally stressful his or her job may be.